This, then leads us to the topic of “Support” – which is where “Schools of Thought” #2 and #3 come in. Breathing and Breath Support are sometimes used interchangeably and, though they are inextricably linked, they are also separate ideas in their own way. Support is the word often used when a singer uses the muscles in their middle (referred to as the “diaphragm”) to push against the lungs, causing more air to be pushed towards the vocal cords. This generally causes the sound to be louder, simply because the definition of volume when it comes to singing is, “the ability of the vocal cords to withstand more air pressure”. The more air pressure your vocal cords can resist, the louder your sound will be. The fact that the “diaphragm” is obsessed about so much in singing circles is beyond me, to be honest. It is an involuntary muscle that contracts and allows a vacuum to be created in the lungs which causes you to inhale, then during exhalation it relaxes causing the elasticity of the lungs to force the air out. You cannot control this muscle. You can, however, use the muscles in your abdomen (like the intercostals, for example) to contract, making the space for the air in the lungs a little crowded, whereby forcibly pushing air towards the vocal folds, causing them to provide more resistance (and create a louder sound).
Wow. Complicated. And you don’t really need to know any of that. Now you can promptly forget you even read the previous paragraph. What a relief. Now try this:
Stand up straight, place your hands on your belly and say “HEY!” – like you’re trying to get someone’s attention. What happened in your middle? Your belly sucked in, pushed against the lungs causing air to be pushed towards the vocal folds, in turn causing them to have to resist the extra air while you vocalized….blah, blah, blah. What some vocal students spend months and even years of their lives sweating to learn to control in countless vocal lessons you just did right there. And you didn’t even have to know the word “diaphragm”. Good for you!
Of course, now I’m leading to another episode of “Having Said That”. So…having said that, at a certain point the ability to “support” (otherwise here-to-fore understood to be defined as: adding air pressure that the vocal cords will then resist) is an important step in your vocal education. When your voice is in balance – and this is important so let me repeat it: When your voice is in BALANCE (that means no strain or breathy sounds, no flips or breaks at your vocal bridges, no rising of the larynx/adam’s apple as the pitch ascends), THEN you can learn to support the sound. Just like a weight lifter has to learn proper form before he or she can add more weight and with bad form would cause muscle strain and injury limiting their ability to continue lifting. Once their form is correct they can gradually increase the amount of weight as their muscles build up strength. The same principle applies to the vocal folds: once proper “form” is achieved we then want to work on gradually adding more weight/resistance to the cords so they can achieve louder, more “supported” sounds.
This, in my experience, is effective using either method #2 or #3 above. They both achieve the same result: contracting the intercostal muscles to add more air pressure to the vocal cords, in turn causing them to resist the air. And I’ve met several singers, whose voices are beautifully balanced (and who I am a fan of), who swear by either one or the other and say they couldn’t reach the volumes they achieve and get their incredible vocal quality in their mix without it. And I believe them.